Childhood poverty is associated with altered hippocampal function and visuospatial memory in adulthood

Elizabeth R. Duval, Sarah N. Garfinkel, James E. Swain, Gary W. Evans, Erika K. Blackburn, Mike Angstadt, Chandra S. Sripada, Israel Liberzon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Childhood poverty is a risk factor for poorer cognitive performance during childhood and adulthood. While evidence linking childhood poverty and memory deficits in adulthood has been accumulating, underlying neural mechanisms are unknown. To investigate neurobiological links between childhood poverty and adult memory performance, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a visuospatial memory task in healthy young adults with varying income levels during childhood. Participants were assessed at age 9 and followed through young adulthood to assess income and related factors. During adulthood, participants completed a visuospatial memory task while undergoing MRI scanning. Patterns of neural activation, as well as memory recognition for items, were assessed to examine links between brain function and memory performance as it relates to childhood income. Our findings revealed associations between item recognition, childhood income level, and hippocampal activation. Specifically, the association between hippocampal activation and recognition accuracy varied as a function of childhood poverty, with positive associations at higher income levels, and negative associations at lower income levels. These prospective findings confirm previous retrospective results detailing deleterious effects of childhood poverty on adult memory performance. In addition, for the first time, we identify novel neurophysiological correlates of these deficits localized to hippocampus activation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-44
Number of pages6
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Childhood poverty
  • Hippocampus
  • Visuospatial memory
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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